The Power of Self-Awareness

Jocelyn Bérard, M.Ps. MBA is the Vice President of International Leadership and Business Solutions (Vice-président Leadership et Solutions d’Affaires   —   Internationale) at Global Knowledge Canada

A physician will not prescribe treatment without a diagnosis; a language school teacher will not register you for a class without testing your level of mastery of the language you want to learn; and your golf pro will observe your swing before giving you advice. The same rules apply in the world of leadership and professional development, where various assessment tools are being used. The reason for using assessment is more than to select the right learning solution; there are powerful reasons for using assessment as part of a development solution. The key is to improve the learner’s self-awareness level.

What is Self-Awareness?

Self-awareness is the level of consciousness and understanding of our own individual personality, value systems, beliefs, and natural tendencies. Author Daniel Goleman, in his book, Emotional Intelligence, maintained that self-awareness (i.e., knowing one’s
emotions) is a foundation of emotional intelligence. He described it as being “aware of both our mood and our thoughts about that mood.”

In a brilliant article titled “Educating the Modern Manager” by Robert Hogan and Rodney Warrenfeltz published in the periodical Academy of Management Learning & Education, the authors ask  a critical question: “What is it that one is aware of when one is self-aware?” In a nutshell, there are two answers. On the one hand, you can be aware of your identity – how you think about and evaluate yourself. On the other hand, you can be aware of your reputation – how others think about and evaluate your behavior.” There is a self view and a person’s perceived performance evaluated by others, an inner and outer perspective.

The challenge arises when these two sides of self-awareness are not aligned. How do we recognize this and what can we do about it?

How to Improve Self-Awareness?

What do you do just before leaving the house when you are all dressed up and on your way to an important event? You look at yourself in a full-length mirror, checking top to bottom, front to side and back. The mirror was your “assessment tool” to raise your awareness of how you look. The way to improve self-awareness in the work place is to get feedback on your behaviours and work habits from various perspectives using approaches such as a 360 ⁰ assessment, asking for direct feedback from your manager, using assessment tools such as personality or style inventories, and self reflection. The key word here is feedback; you must seek feedback from multiple perspectives to get a holistic view of who you are.

Feedback can be solicited on multiple factors, competencies, and traits. You may ask for feedback on intrapersonal skills such as self-confidence and attitude towards authority; interpersonal skills such your capacity for initiating, building, and maintaining relationships with others; leadership skills such as your capacity to build a strong team, and coach and motivate team members to achieve strong performance; and it could be on business or technical skills critical to your job role such as business acumen understanding and utilization of laws in your field of operations.

Why is Self-Awareness Important?

The main reason to be very self-aware is to be able to focus; focus on strengths that you can leverage even more to maximize your performance, and focus on your critical development needs. What are your blind spots? What are the areas where you didn’t realize that you needed to improve; the areas where the inner perspective, your identity, is different than your outer perspective, your reputation? You need to close these gaps  so you know what to do from a developmental standpoint or how to alter some behaviours or work habits.

Improving self-awareness is analogous to preparing and enriching the soil before planting a garden; the whole purpose is to maximize the chances that everything will grow more effectively. Improving self-awareness will help you grow and thrive in the workplace.

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1 comment

  1. Joseph D'Cruz Reply

    If your organization has a good performance management system, the annual meeting with your boss should provide an opportunity for seeking feedback from your direct boss. Come prepared with a couple of questions about specific performance issues and ask for feedback on your behaviour during the last year and the opportunities for improvement. Make sure that you do not restrict the conversation to your strengths. Understanding your weaknesses and developing a plan to overcome them is perhaps more important than seeking reinforcement about your strengths.